How many people have ever lived? And how many will ever live? Those are questions the latest video from Kurzgesagt, which is German for “in a nutshell” or “in summary,” tackles. It’s easy to feel pessimistic about the future of humanity and planet Earth, but the video points out that every civilization thought they lived in the end times. This leads to short-term thinking. But if we estimate how many people will ever live, it helps shift our perspective to one of responsibility to those future generations. As the video says, “what we do matters for all the people who do not exist yet.”
The video is part of the Existential Crisis playlist, and for good reason. The animated choose your own adventure-style pathway has branches that lead to certain death. But there are others with technological and societal wonders worth trying to reach. As more and more humans live on Earth at the same time, we’re basically balancing out what saves us and what harkens our doom.
All people alive right now make up 7% of all humans who have ever lived. Which is wild considering that with modest estimates that same number is 0.008% of all people who will ever live. And if you give the human race enough credit to keep the planet habitable or even leave Earth and maybe the Solar System, that percentage drops by orders of magnitude again, making us seem insignificant but also more important than ever.
Other videos from Kurzgesagt cover the range of thought experiments. There are downer doses of reality, like counting how many people different energy sources have killed or understanding how the coronavirus infects people. But also fun ones, like a solid gold Earth or cuddly dinosaurs. The YouTube channel is full of things we should all understand about our planet and each other.
Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.